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  5. The Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights Series

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FOCUS March 2006 Volume 43

The Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights Series

On the occasion of the first meeting of ASEM Foreign Ministers in Singapore in February 1997, Sweden and France had suggested that informal seminars on human rights be held within the ASEM framework. The aim of this initiative was to promote mutual understanding and co-operation between Europe and Asia in the area of political dialogue, particularly on human rights issues

Six seminars were held successively in Lund (Sweden) in December 1997, in Beijing (China) in June 1999, in Paris (France) in June 2000, in Bali (Indonesia) in July 2001, in Lund (Sweden) in May 2003, and in Suzhou (China) in September 2004

The formula chosen is as follows: the participation of two representatives from universities and NGOs invited by the organisers and one official representative for each of the 13 Asian ASEM countries, and in order to have a balance representation between Asia and Europe, 1 representative from the civil society and 1 official from each of the 25 European ASEM countries; an agenda structured around the 2 main topics related to the subject of the seminar, with discussions held in two working groups; closed room debates to allow free and direct exchanges of view; a set of recommendations elaborated collectively to be sent to the relevant institutions in ASEM countries as informal contribution to the official Asia-Europe dialogue

Supervision of the seminar is entrusted to a Steering Committee made up of the following partners: France, Sweden (the Raoul Wallenberg Institute), China, Indonesia, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), and the European Commission. This Committee sets the seminar's guidelines and how it should be organised. The technical preparation is delegated to three coordinators (Mr. Frederic Tiberghien , State Counsellor, France, Mr. Rolf Ring, Assistant Director, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Sweden and Mr. Bertrand Fort, Deputy Executive Director and Director for Intellectual Exchange, ASEF, Singapore), in liaison with the host country's partners. The funding of meetings is divided into three equal parts among France, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and the Intellectual Exchange Department of the Asia-Europe Foundation (which holds the secretariat of the Series). The experience of the first series of six seminars has shown the usefulness of the chosen formula: a climate of confidence and mutual understanding, in accordance with the ASEM spirit, has grown stronger during this seven year process; the topics selected by the Steering Committee, which focus on issues of common interest to the two regions, have made high quality discussions possible; the high level of participation of the ASEM partners shows the strong interest of the partners for these meetings

Topics debated in the six Asia-Europe seminars already implemented were:

  • Lund (December 1997): Access to justice; regional and national particularities in the administration of justice; monitoring the administration of justice.
  • Beijing (June 1999): Differences in Asian and European values; right to education; rights of minorities.
  • Paris (June 2000): Freedom of expression and right to information; humanitarian intervention and the sovereignty of States; is there a right to a healthy environment?
  • Bali (July 2001): Freedom of conscience and religion; democratisation, conflict resolution and human rights; rights and obligations in the promotion of social welfare.
  • Lund (May 2003): Economic Relations: Human Rights and Multinational Companies, Human Rights and Foreign Direct Investments.
  • Suzhou (September 2004): International Migrations: Protection of Migrants, Migration control and management.

After each conference, the outcomes of the discussions are gathered in a publication that may be used by governments and civil society as a reference on the state of play of the debate on Human Rights in ASEM countries.

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